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Broken heart syndrome – I don’t care what other name you call it, stress cardiomyopathy or takotsubo syndrome, it’s still broken heart syndrome. It happens when someone goes through a situation that puts their heart muscles in distress. They may feel like they are having a heart attack with symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest pains.

Johns Hopkins Advanced Heart Failure Fellowship Program director, Ilan Wittstein, M.D., talks about what it is to have this condition and tells us how to treat it.

What is Broken Heart Syndrome?

Broken heart syndrome is a condition that causes rapid and heart muscle weakness. A broken heart may stir sad memories and make you replay that love song until the neighbors complain, but even joyful events can bring on takotsubo cardiomyopathy. You can win the lottery and still have traumatic cardiac consequences.

The heart dies a slow death, shedding each hope like leaves until one day there are none. No hopes. Nothing remains.” Chiyo Sakamoto, “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden 

Broken Heart Syndrome Causes

There are two different types of stress that can cause broken heart syndrome— emotional and physical. While most people can explain why they are having symptoms, 30 percent of the people with broken heart syndrome say they didn’t have a trigger. However, you can have these emotional stressors:

  • Anger
  • Grief
  • Surprise
  • Fear 

If not emotional, then how about these physical stressors:

  • Low blood sugar
  • Stroke
  • High fever
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures 
  • Rapid bleeding 

Broken Heart Syndrome Symptoms

“Some people describe it as feeling like an elephant is sitting on their chest,” says Jennifer Haythe, M.D., associate professor of medicine in the Center for Advanced Cardiac Care at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and co-director of the Columbia Women’s Heart Center. “There’s sweating, chest pain, jaw pain, left arm pain, nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, palpitations, and mid-epigastric discomfort are all possible symptoms as well.”

You should go right away, experts advise, if you have any new symptoms, especially in your chest, like extreme chest pain or shortness of breath. You may feel ill minutes after an incident, or it could be hours after a trauma or stressful event. Yes, broken heart syndrome can be dangerous. You can have severe weakness of the heart muscles that result in shock, low blood pressure, and congestive heart failure.

At the same time, sufferers can recover quickly if seen in time. It can go away as quick as it came, and that’s a good thing, but one can never be 100% positive that this will happen. If you are feeling short of breath all the time, or have chest pains on the regular, you need to see a doctor, anyway. It could be broken heart syndrome, but you’ll never know until your doctor sees and diagnoses it or rules it out. One thing for sure, you don’t want to have a heart attack thinking it’s a broken heart. The signs are different.

BHS vs Heart Attacks 

When someone has a heart attack, it’s generally because of a blood clot or blockage somewhere. When the arteries are blocked, this means that your heart is not getting enough blood supply. Over time, the heart muscles will die, and scar tissue will develop and cause irreversible damage.

People who experience broken heart syndrome don’t have blockage or clots. For that matter, they don’t have scar tissue either. It’s the adrenaline that stresses the heart out and causes symptoms. What’s the best treatment for broken heart syndrome?

Once doctors determine the diagnosis, they treat it with specific meds that lower BP levels and anxiety, diuretics to prevent fluid build-up and beta-blockers to slow the heart rate. There are a few natural remedies for broken heart syndrome to try in conjunction with the prescriptions from the doctor. 

  1. Hawthorn is a powerful heart tonic used for strengthening and toning the cardiovascular system. 
  2. Rose petals are good for calming the nerves, opening the heart and boosting spirits. Use when someone is grieving or embarking on a new beginning.
  3. Try lemon balm tea. Users recommend steeping two tsps. of dried lemon balm in a cup of water. Add preferred sweetener and a splash of pure lemon juice to give it some flavor. Also try a combination of lemon balm and rose petals. This will give you a warm feeling and spice up the tea. 

Who’s at risk?

How common is broken heart syndrome? Well, if you’re 55 and older, you are in a higher risk group for the syndrome. It gets even riskier if you already have underlying conditions or have a heart disease. Men don’t have many problems with this condition as women because most men handle stress differently and apparently better than their counterparts says the American Heart Association.

Nevertheless, estrogen helps to prevent side effects of adrenaline, anxiety, neurological illnesses, and depression. If you are a woman and have had at least one attack, your chances of having another one just got better. The bright side is that once you have had broken heart syndrome, you know what to look for and you know what to do. The stats for improvement in these cases are high.

People have found themselves in highly stressful situations in the midst of the pandemic. Their economic situations are a mess, and so are their mental states. Dead body counts are unbelievably high and they are steadily climbing.

While researchers are making the connection between COVID and Broken heart syndrome, more people are wondering can you die from heartbreak? Some people think so as couples who have been together for 30, 40, and 50 years are dying within hours of each other, in some cases, holding hands. Since the onset of the pandemic, broken heart syndrome death rates are up from 1.8% to 7.8%.

These are sad times in the nation. It’s a time for healing, but not just from broken heart syndrome. To say stay safe is an understatement. We don’t know if a vaccine will fix the current situation or not, but it’s teaching us more about how to love one another. Hey, y’all… it’s time to check out. This has been your girl, Mikki Donaldson, and remember God loves you, no matter what you do, so take care of yourselves and each other and. Muah! 

Photo by Mental Health America (MHA) from Pexels

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